Tag Archives: Networking

Pseudo-Sync for DropBox and iPad

I’m a Dropbox partisan. Dropbox works really well between multiple platforms as “personal cloud”. The wonderful thing about Dropbox is that it allows you to work locally on a file, whether you are connected to the internet or not, and then it will synchronize any changes that you have made to the source file in the cloud. This can legitimately be called syncing, because you end up with the same version of the file on all devices (and the cloud folder), once the changes have been made.

Except for iDevices. At least for Dropbox,

Even with the Dropbox app installed, the familiar syncing process that works so smoothly on desktops and laptops isn’t present on the iPad. The reason for this is that on actual computers Dropbox maintains copies of all files on all devices and the cloud. On the iPad that might be both a problem with storage space, and also a problem with the amount of data that is transferred.

This has come up with FileMaker files that are opened using the FileMaker Go app on the iPad. I’d prefer to go to the Dropbox app, find my FileMaker database file, and “Open in FileMaker Go”, which is, in fact the procedure that one uses to download and use the FileMaker file on the iPad for the first time.

1. Here’s the file shown in the Dropbox App.  It is called UCHealth.fmp12 and it is an exercise tracking application.

2. Choose the file, then, choose the Open icon (third from the right on the top, the box with the arrow).

Here FileMaker isn’t shown,  but if you tap the “Open In” application icon ….it will bring up additional options:

Tap the FileMaker Go icon, and the file is downloaded from Dropbox, and will be displayed in  FileMaker Go’s file listing for local files on the iPad

However, once the file is opened, it is copied to the iPad and it stays on the iPad. Changes to the file (new records, edited records, etc), are NOT synced back to the Dropbox cloud file.

The fix for this is a bit convoluted, but at least it works. It involves a manual copy of the file back to the Dropbox cloud.

1. In Dropbox, Delete the cloud version of the file. (If you are doing this next to your desktop computer you may see a notification on the desktop telling you that the file has been deleted from Dropbox.

2. In FileMaker Go – be sure to close the file.
a. Select the upper left menu, and choose Windows

Close the application window. (in this example, close the UCHealth application.)
That will bring you back to the file browser.

3. In FileMaker Go, choose “Device”  This will show the list of files that on the iPad.

4. Choose the upper right icon to “mark” the file. This is the (turned down page).
5. Choose the upper left “export” icon to export (square with arrow)

6. Choose “Open in Dropbox”

 7. Choose “Save”

Depending on the size of the file there may be a delay as the file is copied to the Dropbox. And of course, this process doesn’t work unless you are connected to the network.

This whole process isn’t elegant, and is only workable for a single person moving files around.  But it works.

Powershell: Scripting FTP

Having spent some hours figuring out how to script an FTP transfer, I thought I’d describe my kludge. Maybe someone can suggest a more elegant way.  I’m trying to I’m connect to a FTP server on my Linux box to upload a file.
There are at least three approaches that can be taken:
1. Directly interact with .NET objects
2. Import a Powershell module for FTP
3. Use Powershell to manipulate a command line FTP program, such as the Putty Secure FTP program PSFTP.
I started with the second option recommended on TechNet. Looks great, and I thought that it was semi-official (being from Technet). I was unable to get a connection and I think it may be related to the fact that module apparently doesn’t support SFTP version 2.  There are a couple other quirks with the module… including the fact that the user name and password are passed to the command line as an object.  
By the way, both option 2 and 3 have the same name, PSFTP. 
Option 2 = Powershell FTP 
Option 3 = Putty Secure FTP 
So, I’m on to option 3.  This looks a little more promising.  One gotcha, however, is that calling Putty PSFTP from the Powershell ise, makes the connection but doesn’t return to show the PSFTP prompt. Here’s the command (so far) 
PS> .psftp myaccount@192.168.224.184 -p 22 -pw mypassword -v -2
This command shows that:
The psftp program is located in the current directory.
myaccount@192.168.224.184 – is the login account used for logging into the target machine
192.168.224.185 – is the IP address of the target machine
-p 22 – is port 22, used for Secure FTP
-pw is the password
-v is verbose (upon execution it returns all the steps of the login
-2 is SSL version 2.
Running this from the command line in the ISE gives the following:
  .psftp : Looking up host “192.168.214.184”
At line:1 char:1
+ .psftp myaccount@192.168.224.184 -P 22 -pw mypassword -v -2
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    + CategoryInfo          : NotSpecified: (Looking up host “192.168.224.184”:String) [], RemoteException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : NativeCommandError
Connecting to 192.168.224.184 port 22
We claim version: SSH-2.0-PuTTY_Release_0.63
Server version: SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_3.8.1p1
Using SSH protocol version 2
Doing Diffie-Hellman group exchange
Doing Diffie-Hellman key exchange with hash SHA-1
Host key fingerprint is:
ssh-rsa 1024 ce:ec:0d:c2:90:ab:5e:87:12:bf:ba:f9:78:77:89:fb
Initialised AES-256 SDCTR client->server encryption
Initialised HMAC-SHA1 client->server MAC algorithm
Initialised AES-256 SDCTR server->client encryption
Initialised HMAC-SHA1 server->client MAC algorithm
Using username “myaccount”.
Attempting keyboard-interactive authentication
Access granted
Opening session as main channel
Opened main channel
Started a shell/command
Connected to 192.168.214.103
Remote working directory is /ftproot
PS >
If you run this from the ise, it returns the PS command as shown.  
If you run this from a regular powershell command session, it will keep you in the PSFTP session, and you can run use the usual FTP commands….like CD, etc. 
In either case, the way Putty FTP can execute scripted commands is that the script has to live in a separate batch file that is called from the command line.  There doesn’t appear to be a  way to pass commands from Powershell to a running Putty SFTP session.  (hmm.. really?) 
Additioanal points: 
1. I might be able to configure the FTP server running on the Linux box to accept the connection from the PowerShell FTP module. I haven’t investigated that possibility but presumably it would be less secure in terms of encryption.

2. The script above has the name and password in clear text.  Not a best practice. 
3. Various versions of FTP are described on this page.  

ClearOS: A Linux-based Windows SBS Replacement

In my ongoing project of trying to clone a Redhat Linux server, I ran across a help file that was written for an operating system called ClearOS. I assumed that this was another Linux distribution, and ignored it at first but then, while waiting for another installation, I spent some time reading the web pages.

ClearOS is a combination of a core Linux distribution based on Red Hat and CentOS. It includes a complete set of applications to provision an entire office. Perhaps the main advantage is that it takes what are usually a number of several different disparate Linux-based programs, and it puts a slick web-based management front-end them. ClearOS is very modular; you can make things as sophisticated or simple as you want.

To get a closer look, I downloaded and installed the ClearOS Virtualbox demo. (The only glitch was a problem with the 64-bit demo; I re-downloaded the 32-bit version and that installed perfectly on Virtualbox on my iMac.)

Setup is accomplished by a wizard that walks you through a sequence of steps to install the software, connect to the internet, configure the firewall and configure additional services.

If you want to see how ClearOS looks without worrying about the installation, you can “manage” a virtual server with a Live-Demo.

The screenshot shows options for backing up local workstations.

ClearOS offers a number of different versions and support levels. You can download and run the community edition for free, a choice that I might consider to replace a Windows SBS 2011 server if there are no processes on the server that are dependent on Windows. You can install it and run it on your own dedicated hardware. (They don’t recommend running the whole thing in a single virtual machine).

Or you can run it on a ClearOS hybrid appliance. These require the ClearOS Professional version which is a subscription-based support plan. The supported version can also be run on your own hardware. It includes certified and tested versions of all of the applications so that they are guaranteed to work together.

Years ago there was the Cobalt Qube, a single box which provided eMail, file and print services in a single cute box. (You can still find them on eBay). It was a great way to get an “instant network”, and I was sorry to see it discontinued. The ClearOS options provide a similar instant network, and would be suitable anywhere a Windows Small Business Server might be considered.

Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 — Install Quirks

Well, maybe not quirks exactly, but, there do seem to be a few points of interest.

To review, Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 is a bundled combination of the following:

Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Exchange 2010
Microsoft SharePoint 2010
Microsoft SQL Server 2008

In its usual confusing way, Microsoft can’t offer a single version of this but rather, they have three editions. There is Windows Small Business Server Standard (with the software described above), Windows Small Business Server Essentials (which substitutes cloud versions of SharePoint and Exchange for the bundled server versions that come with Standard). There is also an supplementary Small Business Server Premium Add-On which adds another SQL-Server box for running back-end database applications or web sites. I’ve been working with Standard. This can serve a maximum of 75 users, which I’m sort of assuming means 75 currently connected users, and that you could configure more than that number.

On installation, the SBS server wants to be a DNS server as well as a DHCP server. It is helpful to have the server connected on the LAN, with a working internet connection. If, as in my case, you run a separate DHCP server (the box which doles out IP addresses for workstations as they come online), then you need to disable it temporarily while setting up the SBS machine. Otherwise, SBS will complain and fail to configure its connections to the internet.

Another quirk is that when you first install the operating system everything is installed on drive C: including users shares, Sharepoint folders and Exchange mailboxes. Presumably you’ll want these to reside on a separate set of disks, or partition from the O/S partition, and there is a series of “wizards” that allow you to accomplish this without pain. Once the folders are moved to the data drive or partition, the default new user folders are created in the correct location.

The SBS server must be the top level domain controller in a Windows network. Other Windows servers can be secondary domain controllers but not primary. There is an elaborate multi-page migration methodology which is supposed to allow you to migrate users for SBS 2003 to SBS 2011, however much of the discussion on the technical boards suggests that the migration is a nightmare. So, in the two instances that I’ve been upgrading, I’m starting from scratch. I don’t went to be caught in the middle where the old installation isn’t working and the new one isn’t ready for some unknown or odd reason.

I’m still on the fence as to whether SBS is a good idea. If you’ve already got a POP eMail server going, which has Spam filtering and all the standard features provided by an ISP, managing Exchange on a local server just seems to me to provide an opportunity for additional work and maintenance. It also places all critical applications on a single piece of hardware. On the other hand, Exchange has evolved as a pretty nice calendaring and eMail server, and SharePoint, for those who can use it, works well as an internal knowledge base. SBS includes other tricks, like VPN capability, OutLook web access for accessing your OutLook mailbox from the web, and lots of management wizards which tend to ease some of the burden of maintaining things.

As a practical matter, servers are pretty reliable these days… and you have to go out of your way to practice and rehearse a disaster-recovery scenarios because they just don’t happen that often.

Spicy Server Pix

Shocking! Server Interior Revealed!

Click on the images to see them full size.

Here’s a picture of my new Dell T110 server, with the cover off.

Here’s a little more detail. You can see the two drives mounted on the left hand side, with two conveniently vacant drive bays for a couple additional SATA drives. Upper middle are the four memory slots, each filled with a 2 megabyte chip for a total of eight megabytes. All the black stuff on the right is the shroud covering the heat sink. The unit is absolutely silent.

Finally, here it is in the final configuration. I’ve got an older Maxell external USB 250 megabyte drive as a backup device. The Small Business Server 2011 backup is much improved over Windows backup software that came with earlier Windows server software…almost as good as the Mac Time Machine.

This is the first purpose-bought server that I’ve bought in more than ten years for my business. I had a couple in the nineties. Then for two or three iterations, I’d buy Dell Precision workstations to use as my personal workstation, and then I’d bump them down to be a server. All of these machines have been very reliable. I even used one of the Optiplex GX270 desktops as a production server for more than six months.

Tech Friday: More on Windows Small Business Server 2011

So, after fiddling for a week, I decided to commit, and make the SBS 2011 my real office server, at least for awhile. Amazing how much tweaking is required. Out of the box it doesn’t work out of the box, and despite the presence of numerous wizards and checklists, I find that it requires a fair amount of network knowledge to get things up and running. Ideas:

1. Under the covers, SBS 2011 uses Windows Server 2008, and Microsoft Exchange 2010.

2. In its default state, SBS assumes it will control everything, even unto DHCP. DHCP is usually enabled by default on most routers. It is the function that assigns an internal IP address to each workstation as it comes on the network. I prefer that the function stay with the router, so if the server is off for some reason, workstations can still get a legal IP address to be able to go out on to the internet. For the moment, I’ve acquiesced and given that function to SBS.

3. Since I’m planning to run Exchange, I needed to have a domain assigned to my SBS server. I have a fixed outward facing IP address from Comcast, my internet service provider. I assigned a “third level domain name” to my SBS server. This is often done for individual machines within a domain. So, for example of your company’s domain is kettleprises.com, you mail server might be mail.kettleprises.com, and your sbs server might be sbs.kettleprises.com. Third level domain names do not usually cost extra. I then configured a DNS server on the SBS box using the assigned third-level domain. So far, I haven’t been able to find my domain mapping using nslookup, so I’m a little worried that something is awry.

4. The above is not to be confused with the “windows domain”, which is a single name for the local area network’s SBS machine. I named mine ghq. SBS then translates this to ghq.local which is assigned to the server’s internal ip address.

5. The next issue, is to get the network workstations connected to the server. Before doing that, the help file suggests creating the user accounts on the server. Once you do that, you can go to the individual workstations, and run the web browser, and try to find http://connect. If this is successful, then you’ll see the following screen:

This is only a link to download a “launcher.exe” file which is a script which connects the computer to the network. If there are local user profiles available, it allows you to choose one to migrate to a domain account. (Again, showing essentially that the SBS developers assume that this is the first server of a one-server network, and you would only be migrating local workstation accounts to domain accounts anyway.)

If you can’t bring up the web page, then something is misconfigured, somewhere. It took me several tries to make sure everything was working as expected. I thought the last loose end was the fact that my third level domain name hadn’t propagated yet, but between the time I started writing and the time I’ve finished, it now appears under NSLOOKUP.

Laplink PC Mover migrates Windows Users to new machines

Moving users to new Windows machines is a pain. PC Mover helps automate the process, and it even assists when you are migrating users between Windows versions, such as upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Despite being lead to believe otherwise, PC Mover does not fully migrate OutLook accounts. Rather it will migrate the account server connection but it does not migrate the OutLook messages. I confirmed this with their technical support people.

You can migrate messages by copying the OutLook.PST file from the old machine to the new machine. I found I had to do this each time I migrated a user from Windows XP to Windows 7 on a new machine. Everything else, however, migrates smoothly. To do this:

1. Make sure the new machine is connected to the network.
2. If you can (or need to) register the computer with the Microsoft Domain Controller (under Control Panel, go to System ->Computer Name, and see that the computer is a member of the domain.
3. Log in to the new computer with the target user’s domain account. This will create a new user profile on the new computer.
4. Log off, and log in again as the Domain Administrator. This will give you rights to perform the migration on the new computer.
5. Install and run PC Mover on the new computer.
6. Log in as an administrator on the old computer.
7. Install PC Mover on the old computer. (I use a thumb drive for this).
8. Run PC Mover on the old computer. It will find the new computer on the network .
9. Choose the user’s domain account on the old computer for migration to the new computer. (This is the reason for step 3 above. Before doing this, I received an error message from PC Mover on the old computer saying that it can’t migrate the domain account. I’m presuming that is because the account didn’t exist on the new computer.)
10. In general, you don’t want to migrate old versions of applications that won’t be used on the new machine. So, these being Dells, I didn’t migrate things like Roxio CD Creator from the old machine to the new one. Also, if you already have applications installed (Office 2007?) on the new machine, you don’t need to migrate the whole application again.

One thing that is helpful is there is a rollback function, so if the migration doesn’t work as expected, you can roll back and try again with different settings.